First Look: Is the VanMoof S4 Superior to the S5?
Affordable and reduced to the bare basics—that's how VanMoof advertised the new S4, launched in May 2023. With this new model, the manufacturer filled a gap between the previous S3 and the $3,998 VanMoof S5. But just how much compromise was necessary to produce this e-bike? Fortunately, we had the opportunity to try out the new VanMoof in an Evergreen shade. Other available colors include Purple Fog, Sunbeam Yellow, and Foam Green.
The VanMoof S4 in a nutshell
The VanMoof S4 is available for pre-order together with the X4 since May 9, 2023. The recommended retail price of both two e-bikes are $2,498 and delivery is scheduled for August 2023. If you want to buy the new bikes, you can do so directly via the VanMoof homepage via the following link.
At first glance, the VanMoof S4 is hardly distinguishable from the manufacturer's current top model. If you want to tell the difference between the two on the road, you should pay attention to the thicker tires and the handlebars. With the S4, VanMoof omitted two buttons and did away with the optical displays on the bike.
What I liked:
- Thicker tires provide additional riding comfort.
- New colors really make a splash.
What I disliked:
- No Halo Ring display or LCD display.
- At 21.6 kg, it is still too heavy.
When I visited the VanMoof store in Berlin, I tried to identify the S4 among all the other VanMoof models at a glance. A good indicator for the new bike, apart from the new colors, is the new handlebar that dropped the Halo Ring display and now comes with just a pair of buttons instead of a quartet. Since S5 riders are still waiting for the required update to configure the additional buttons, this is not really a disadvantage—for now.
What is annoying, however, is the missing display on the bike itself. While I criticized the new Halo Rings in my review of the VanMoof S5 for their somewhat meager information content, I did miss them when bringing the S4 out for a test ride. The Halo Rings were especially handy for displaying the remaining battery life and selecting different support levels.
If you want to view information directly on the bike, you will have to rely entirely on attaching a smartphone to the handlebars on the S4. For this purpose, the S4 also comes equipped with a mount for SP Connect sleeves.
Otherwise, the S4 and S5 only differ slightly in terms of design. Differences are most visible when compared directly, which is why I've pieced both bikes together from the side view just for you. The ride comfort changes, however, due to significantly thicker tires that act even more like a suspension on cobblestones and off-road routes. More on that later.
What VanMoof couldn't improve on the S4 model is the bike's weight. With a permanently installed battery, you still have to awkwardly carry the 21.6-kilogram S4, which is explicitly advertised as a "city bike," into your home. However, you still receive a really high-quality e-bike for this, where all screws fit tightly without any rattling or wobbling.
The fact that you can now get the usual VanMoof quality for under $2,500 makes it rather attractive for many cyclists in my opinion. At that price point, the disadvantages basically disappear in everyday use.
E-motor and riding comfort
The S4's front tire is equipped with a 250 W electric motor, which can call upon an additional 59 Newton meters of torque at the push of a button. With thicker tires and a fairly large wheelbase, the S4 also has the familiar cruiser feel. Unlike the S5, the gearshift no longer works electronically but via centrifugal force with two instead of three available gears.
What I liked:
- Very high ride comfort thanks to the thicker 27.5-inch tires.
- The boost button puts a smile on the face even with 59 Nm of torque.
What I disliked:
- Manual centrifugal clutch with two gears takes some getting used to.
- Front tire tends to spin out.
A unique selling point of VanMoof bikes is the boost button, which is easily accessible with the right thumb. If you hold it down and pedal, you'll be propelled forward with an additional 59 Nm of torque.
The 250 W electric motor delivers this power to the front tire. As with the Brompton Electric (review), this gives you the feeling of being pulled forward with your bike. This can be quite fun, but during my test ride, the front tire had a tendency to spin out.
One of the reasons for this is how the center of gravity shifts back a bit when accelerating, which translates to having less weight on the front fork. It offers decent transition with the automatic gear shifts, working differently here than on the more expensive VanMoof S5. While this reacts electronically to your pedaling strength as well as the revolutions of the bottom bracket, the S4 works with a centrifugal clutch.
The riding experience can be a bit unusual at first, since the clutch only engages at a certain cadence. As a result, you often end up with zero propulsion when you stop pedaling briefly during the ride.
This can be a bit jarring, but it is also avoidable by keeping the pedals moving at all times. Since VanMoof equipped the automatic transmission with a very comfortable gear ratio, shifting is quite impressive after getting used to it.
Although the S4 offers an ounce less power than the S5 and uses a different type of gearshift, both riding pleasure and comfort levels when cruising are very high.
Battery performance and smart functions
According to the manufacturer, the range of the VanMoof S4 lies between 60 and 150 km - which places the cheaper bike on par with the top model. Comfort features like the typical Kick-Lock, anti-theft system including a team of bike hunters in case of theft, and the clever app connection are also available. However, you have to do without a few luxury details found on the S4.
What I liked:
- The range is on par with the VanMoof S5.
- Kick Lock is simply ingenious.
What I disliked:
- Battery is permanently installed.
- No automatic light control and no environmental sensors.
For my test ride, I was able to ride the VanMoof S4 for about 45 minutes through the streets of Berlin. When it comes to its range, I simply have to trust the manufacturer's claims here. The fact that VanMoof's cheapest model offers the same range as the top model is most welcome.
If you want to harness the full potential of the e-bike, however, the range will probably lean more toward 50 to 60 km, as with the S5. This is what I suspect, which I will confirm in the more detailed review of the VanMoof S4.
The Kick Lock in the S4, which allows you to lock the rear tire with a firm kick, was developed specifically for the S4, based on what the staff told us. It works in the same way as in the S5, and you can also rely on the GPS positioning and tracking by VanMoof's "Bike Hunters" in case of theft. VanMoof is known for its meticulousness here, so it's nice that you don't have to make any compromises here.
The same applies to most of the smart functions, even though I could not try them out without setting them up on my smartphone during the test ride. However, I confirmed that the app mainly lacks the ability to set options for the electronic gear shift. Furthermore, the S4 model misses out on environmental sensors that are installed in the frame of the S5.
This means you will miss out on information concerning the outside temperature displayed in the app, and neither are the lights activated automatically. In the end, the S4 comes up short on these few luxury features.
So how do I rate VanMoof's latest bike after the first test ride? Well, it is at least on par with the S5, which I was able to test for a week this spring. VanMoof now offers the same advantages and disadvantages as its most expensive model for around $2,500.
Hence, by raising the price to just under $4,000, they are positioning the S5 and A5 models as luxury bikes in which they integrate the latest technologies found in the e-bike market.
And that's precisely why, according to my first impression, the S4 is the better bike to recommend. This is because for $2,498, you get a riding experience, a wide range of functions, and quality that is 95 percent on par with VanMoof's current flagship. In my opinion, this makes it difficult complicated to justify the nearly $1,500 premium for the top model.
Looking for a new bike for the summer? NextPit recommends these e-bikes for the summer of 2023.
The new S4 and X4 models will certainly excite new customers and annoy existing customers who recently purchased the S5 or A5. I will soon find out whether the S4 has any other weaknesses in everyday use in a long-term review. You are welcome to share your questions and suggestions in the comments!